Oluseyi Fayanju wasn’t in school in Verona when Fred Krupp organized the first Earth Day celebration at Verona High School in 1970. Heck, he wasn’t even born. Now, Fayanju–“Seyi”–to one and all–works for Krupp at the Environmental Defense Fund in New York City. Fayanju’s job: Restoring and protecting the Gulf Coast, from both natural and man-made disasters.
“While the region captured recent media attention due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP spill in 2010,” says Fayanju, “the wetland and shoreline habitats of Louisiana and its neighbors had been suffering from environmental damage long before these disasters.”
But if the name Seyi Fayanju rings a bell, it may be for reasons that have nothing to do with America’s coastlines. In 1996, as a seventh grader at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, Fayanju won the National Geographic Society’s National Geography Bee. After finishing high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Fayanju got a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a master’s from Columbia, and
experience in the financial sector before joining EDF. He also had a stint on Jeopardy! in 2009.
Now, he ponders questions and answers on the Mississippi River Delta. “The wetlands that make up the delta have been disappearing for decades, largely because the natural processes that built the delta have been interrupted by navigation and energy projects,” says Fayanju. “Levees along the course of the river prevent its muddy waters from depositing their sediment in the delta during seasonal floods, and the construction of shipment canals for oil and gas exploration has upset the delicate balance between salt and fresh water in much of the Mississippi Delta region, triggering the loss of millions of acres of marsh plants ill-adapted to saltwater intrusion.” He notes that 2,300 square miles of coastal Louisiana have vanished since 1930, an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware.
Fayanju and others in the coastal Louisiana program at EDF are now working with several other non-profits and a coalition of academic, corporate and political groups to protect the delta before it disappears completely. “Our hope is that the lessons learned on the Gulf Coast can be re-deployed to protect coastal communities around the world, including those on the Jersey Shore,” says Fayanju, who is one of the main contributors to EDF’s “Restoration and Resilience” blog.
If all this seems like leap from a town with no coastline and only man-made wetlands (in Verona Park), Fayanju seems to disagree. “I feel like my education and experiences in Verona helped a lot in guiding me towards this path,” he says. “In elementary, middle and high school, I was fortunate to have excellent teachers who sparked a curiosity about the world. I often spent hours in the library at Laning reading about other parts of the country, training that proved useful when I suddenly found myself traveling to all sorts of places for work in the corporate world and the non-profit sector. Most importantly, I benefited from the strong sense of community and civic purpose engendered by my education in the Verona public schools. I don’t think it’s an accident that the head of my organization–one of the most influential in the country on subjects like renewable energy and climate change–is another former Verona resident, Fred Krupp.”